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What you need to know about Whiplash

Whiplash is caused by a person’s head suddenly moving backwards and then forward with considerable force. A rear-end accident is the most typical cause of this injury. Physical abuse, sports injuries, and even amusement park rides can cause it.

Whiplash occurs when your neck’s soft tissues (muscles and ligaments) are stretched beyond their normal range of motion. Because your symptoms may not present for a while, it’s critical to monitor any physical changes for a few days after a car accident or other injury.

Whiplash is a relatively minor injury, yet it can result in long-term pain and discomfort.

Symptoms of whiplash

Symptoms usually occur within 24 hours of the whiplash-causing episode. Symptoms may appear after a few days in some cases. They can last up to a month.

Symptoms that are common include:

  • Neck stiffness and pain
  • Headaches, particularly those around the base of the skull
  • Dizziness
  • Eyesight problems
  • Constant exhaustion

Chronic whiplash symptoms that are less common include:


In most cases, your doctor will ask you questions concerning your injury, such as:

  • How it occurred
  • Where you experience discomfort
  • Whether it’s a mild, shooting, or intense pain

They may also perform a physical examination to assess your range of motion and look for sore spots.

Imaging studies may be ordered by your doctor to assess any injury or inflammation in the soft tissues, spinal cord, or nerves. They can also determine if someone has had a brain injury. The following imaging examinations may be performed:

  • X-ray (to ensure that your discomfort isn’t caused by another injury or degenerative illness like arthritis)
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan

A doctor may request a diffuse tensor imaging (DTI) or positron emission tomography (PET) scan to help locate and quantify the degree of a brain or other region lesion.


Whiplash occurs when the muscles in your neck are strained by a quick backwards and forward movement. Tendons and ligaments in your neck stretch and tear as a result of the sudden action.

Whiplash can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Crashes between automobiles
  • Physical violence, such as being hit or shaken
  • Football, boxing, and several martial arts are examples of contact sports.
  • Riding a horse
  • Collisions or falls when riding
  • Falls in which the head jerks back violently
  • A blow to the head with a heavy object


Whiplash can cause chronic, long-term pain or headaches in some people for years after the initial injury. Damaged neck joints, discs, and ligaments may be the source of this pain, according to doctors. However, chronic pain following a whiplash injury is frequently undiagnosed.

When to call a doctor

Most mild to severe cases of whiplash can be treated at home using OTC pain relievers, ice, and other therapies.

If you’ve been in a vehicle accident or have any of the following symptoms, you should see a doctor:

  • Neck stiffness or soreness that goes away and then reappears.
  • Severe neck discomfort.
  • In your shoulders, arms, or legs, you may experience discomfort, numbness, or tingling.
  • If you’re having problems with your bladder or bowels.
  • Weakness in a leg or an arm.


If you have any of the following symptoms, you should see a doctor right away:

Your symptoms have moved to your shoulders or arms, and moving your head is uncomfortable. Your arms are numb or weak.


Whiplash treatment is relatively straightforward. Doctors sometimes prescribe over-the-counter pain relievers such as paracetamol or aspirin.

Medical treatment

Treatment options include:

  • For more serious injuries, prescription painkillers
  • Muscle relaxants are used to alleviate muscular spasms.
  • Treating the damaged area with ice or heat


Physical therapy is crucial in the rehabilitation process. A specialist may be recommended by your doctor. Recovery may also involve the following:

  • Neck exercises to improve strength and flexibility
  • Maintain a good posture
  • Learning relaxation techniques can help prevent neck muscle strain and aid healing.

A foam collar may also be used to keep your neck stable. Collars should not be worn for longer than three hours. They should only be used during the first several days following an injury. Collars, on the other hand, have fallen out of favour with many doctors. It’s thought that utilising it for longer than the recommended time will slow healing.

Alternative aftercare

Alternative pain treatments may also be worth a shot. Some examples are:

  • Chiropractic treatment
  • Massage, which may help to ease some neck muscular tension
  • Electrical nerve stimulation uses a low-voltage electric current to assist relieve neck pain.
  • Acupuncture, but no research has shown that it can help with neck pain.
  • Infrared sauna treatments and cryotherapy


Whiplash causes very few people to have long-term difficulties. The recovery period ranges from a few days to several weeks in most cases. Most patients recover completely within 2 to 3 months, according to the NHS.